Many people use the early Spring as a time for deep cleaning. It’s the perfect time to make a fresh start. The warmer weather and longer days allow you to open your windows, breathe the fresh air, and make time for a deep cleanout.
However, when it comes to your home and office files, many times people don’t know what to keep and what to get rid of. Much of what we tend to hold onto has personal and confidential information on it. The FTC estimates that up to 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. Don’t let this happen to you. SHRED your documents to protect yourself and your identity.
The FTC provides guidelines to help you know what to shred, and what to hold onto…
It is recommended to immediately shred sales receipts, ATM receipts, paid credit card statements, paid utility bills, credit offers, cancelled checks that are not tax related, and expired warranties. None of these items are need for future reference, so they simply pose a risk to you if they are kept.
There are a few items you generally receive weekly or monthly throughout the year that you should hold onto for 12 months. These items include: pay stubs, bank statements, and paid undisputed medical bills.
Tax related receipts, tax related cancelled checks, W-2s, and records for tax deductions taken should all be held onto for 7 years. In the case of an audit, these items may be requested going back as far as 7 years.
When it comes to documents like auto titles, home deeds, disputed medical bills, and home improvement receipts, it is generally recommended to hold onto these items as long as you own the asset, or until any dispute is resolved.
The last category of documents is the items to keep forever. This includes personal documents like birth certificates, social security cards, marriage or divorce decrees, citizenship papers, death certificates, and tax returns. These documents should be kept in a fire-proof safe, or a safety deposit box.
If you are ever in doubt about whether to keep or shred your documents, you can check with the FTC (www.consumer.ftc.gov) or contact your accountant. Please also remember that these guidelines are for general consumers, and all business have their own guidelines that should be followed.
The bottom line is, while it is extremely important to retain sensitive financial and personal information, it's equally important to ensure it is securely destroyed on a routine basis.